MOBILE MANAGERS : Smart but not yet seamless – Innovative maybe – but is it useful?

While hype about the brilliance of new mobile devices and fast wireless networks abounds in mobile technology press releases, Pat O’Connell, chief information officer for Carter Holt Harvey, is one of many mobile managers who knows the reality of using today’s mobile technologies.
In addition to managing 1300 mobile PCs and 1000 handheld devices connecting to the networks of Carter Holt Harvey, O’Connell personally owns two mobile devices and laptop which he uses to access email and other business information and to send and receive files when out of the office or travelling internationally.
“Mobility is pretty critical to me personally; I need to be able to touch home base all the time to get access to that ‘killer application’ email, and to send files, some of which are pretty large,” says O’Connell.
O’Connell travels two weeks out of every four, mostly to the United States and Australia, and has had his fair share of problems with today’s mobile ‘wonder tools’. He says international mobile data charges are expensive and while many US hotels offer free fixed line broadband access, Australian hotels can charge A$29.95 plus GST per day. Worse, he says the so-called ‘seamlessness’ of mobile technologies is lacking and he often finds it hard to connect to the business networks he needs access to.
“The set up required for mobile communications is still too complex and it’s mission to get online most of the time depending on what you are connecting to. If it’s business network, there are firewalls and proxy servers [to negotiate] and security settings on your laptop and passwords which you need to get through to different types of servers. Mobile broadband connections are not seamless and they aren’t turned on like electricity – it’s more like trying to turn on tap with 15 different settings on it,” he says.
That said, O’Connell admits he couldn’t be without mobile technologies and neither could his work colleagues. He says he is looking forward to seeing the benefits of recently introduced “number portability” services because these will allow new Carter Holt Harvey employees to keep the 021 mobile number they may have had with previous employers yet use Carter Holt Harvey’s Telecom mobile phones. (Number portability allows mobile phone customers with 021 or 027 numbers to swap between Telecom and Vodafone networks whilst keeping the same phone number. However, new phone is needed.)
Jonathan Hooper, IT manager for real estate firm Barfoot and Thompson, says he is also looking forward to number portability.
“For our sales people, mobile phone number is part of their brand and people spend lot of money establishing that brand by putting their phone number on business cards, flyers and magnets. To date, these commitments have been major inhibitor to people changing phone numbers, but number portability means we can approach Vodafone or Telecom [and negotiate] as whole business. So we are quite excited about it,” says Hooper.

Lock ’em down
One of the key concerns for mobile managers – and more so for their employers – is the extent to which mobile device can be secured. Mobile phones and handheld phones (or smart phones) can now receive viruses and other malicious software known as malware when their owners use wireless Bluetooth connections, mobile email and surf the internet.
But the real risk is when malware resides on laptop because these are most often used to connect to the main computer networks of employers, business partners and customers. There, they upload or download information or access the network for services like internet. If business is unable to first quarantine laptop using security software designed exactly for that purpose, malware residing on the laptop can get straight into the core of the network and wreak havoc.
Along with file corruption and application damage, malware can give hackers an ‘open back door’ to network to manually damage, manipulate, steal or deface information and applications found within it.
Mobile devices pose further security risk – they can be lost or stolen, and contacts and other sensitive business information along with them. O’Connell, an information officer with years of experience managing mobile technologies, admits he recently lost his work mobile phone in forest. He hopes it is now sufficiently wet, powerless, and covered with pine needles to be non-workable, and says new mobile devices running the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 or Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system appeal because that operating system has security feature that uses server software to wipe the mobile device remotely.
Windows Mobile devices are also popular for other reasons. One is that they replicate the desktop Windows experience on mobile device, offering the Internet Explorer web browser and mini versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. Another is that they ‘talk’ easily to Microsoft Exchange Server software which businesses use to deliver email to desktops, laptops and handheld mobile devices at the same time, and in real time.
Also popular is the range of Blackberry devices, which although designed primarily to send and receive email, includes new models that are also mobile phones. The real beauty of Blackberry though, is that it has traditionally been easy to manage and secure. business running Blackberry management software on server can, for example, lock down the camera on each Blackberry device so that it can’t be used. For some organisations, phone cameras are fast way for staff to intentionally or accidentally distribute intellectual property like CAD drawings or secret designs, and are therefore just too risky.

When it all goes well
Rowena Goodwill, Australia and New Zealand manager for Gold Coast Tourism, is frequent traveller between the two countries and also to other parts of Asia, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Goodwill uses both an i-mate smart phone running Windows Mobile 5.0 (the JAMin) and Toshiba Portege laptop with mobile data card on the Vodafone Australia network. Like many mobile managers, she has also set up wireless network at home which uses the bandwidth of her fixed line connection to allow mobile devices to connect wirelessly from different rooms in the house.
When travelling, Goodwill says she relies largely on the JAMin to stay in touch, but needs laptop as well.
“We get sent lot of documents and being able to open them and view them from wherever I am is fantastic. I use the laptop when I can because while the i-mate is convenient it gets monotonous to type into if you have lot to write. But I use both devices at airport lounges, at home, and in cafes between meetings for research and internet access as well as email,” she says.
Unlike O’Connell, Goodwill says she has found global roaming fairly painless but is careful to watch voice and data costs. To mitigate these, like many mobile managers Goodwill uses 802.11 wireless networks (commonly called WiFi networks or ‘hot spots’) whenever possible. WiFi connections are cheaper, may even be free, and are fast.
However, WiFi connections use the Internet Protocol so voice calls cannot be made unless the mobile device supports Voice over IP or VoIP (such as Skype mobile phone or laptop with VoIP software) and WiFi services are only available within the hot spot area which is normally tens of metres compared with the hundreds of kilometres cellular mobile network can cover. Goodwill says as result, the cost of using cellular networks is offset by the productivity gains.
“Many airports don’t have WiFi access and if I wasn’t supported by [cellular] mobile technologies I could spend whole day travelling between the Gold Coast and Auckland during the daylight-saving months and wipe out an entire day of work,” says Goodwill.
She says the tourism business resides outside of the office which is why her employer is constantly looking for reliable, cost-effective mobile solutions and mobility is definitely competit

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